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That’s Why They Call It The Blues

Kerissa Ward - New York Red Bulls/mlsfemale
New York Red Bulls Key Contributor

By Kerissa Ward // @kerissaward

Sunday, August 6: 3-2 Loss

Dear Reader,

I need to begin by apologizing.  I apologize for this post being so late.  I apologize for allowing my support of the New York Red Bulls to get in the way of my duty to you.  I should have been eager to write about this match, even though it was a loss.  Truthfully, I would have been, too, if it hadn’t been for who we lost against.

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Don’t worry. This isn’t going to be an angry screed against NYCFC.  Yes, I fervently dislike the blue team, but that’s not what this website is about.  There are plenty of other RBNY sites and podcasts who will be dissing them; so if you’re looking for that, look elsewhere.

Especially since Sunday was a classic “That’s so Metro” kind of match.

For those who don’t know, “That’s so Metro” is the phrase used when the Red Bulls lose a game through their own stupidness.  It started in the early days of the club when they were the MetroStars when Nicola Caricola scored the only goal during the inagural home match.  Too bad it was an own goal.

Thus, was a meme born.

“That’s So Metro”, or TSM for short, is not an excuse.  Supporters don’t use it to defend bad plays or explain why we should have won.  It’s used to describe how RBNY can turn a match or a season into a dumpster fire.  It’s used to remember not to get our hopes up about anything until the final whistle of the final match.  It’s our Chinatown.

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I should have known something was wrong when I didn’t feel nauseated.

For the last few seasons, whenever there’s been an important match, I begin to feel nauseous a couple of hours beforehand.  Several factors determine the strength of the feeling.  How good is the other club?  Have we played them before this season?  If we did, did we win, lose, or draw?  And, most importantly, how have we been playing?  Depending on the answers, my tummy discomfort could fall anywhere from a little grumbly to a level where anything more than a hot dog could exit my body in the wrong direction.  Usually, the worse I feel the better the club plays.

This past Sunday, I felt nothing.

Maybe I gave myself a false sense of safety.  RBNY had been playing better in the last couple of matches.  Even though their last three wins were against clubs having poor seasons, their form had improved so much that those matches were blow-outs — 5-1, 3-0, and 4-0 respectively.  They were so improved from their June 24th match with NYC that many felt a draw would be a realistic result.

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There were three signs this was going to be an oh-so-Metro match.  The first was Daniel Royer’s cries of agony in the 11th minute.  It looked like a true accident, too.  Royer and NYC’s Alexander Ring were chasing the ball, Royer slid to kick the ball away from Ring, Ring’s run became more of a leap where his momentum didn’t keep him going forward, Ring fell backwards, landing on Royer’s knee.  The play was so clean that neither player touched each other until Ring fell on Royer.

I don’t know if anyone at Yankee Stadium could hear his cries, but I could on television.  They were chilling.  They were the kind of cries that could mean the end of his season.  Thank the soccer gods, it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen. 

His leaving early affected the team, though.  Before the injury they had a controlled possession with well-timed crosses and plenty of speed.  After Royer’s injury, they lost momentum and began easily losing possession.  They didn’t shake alive until David Villa scored a goal in the 28th minute.

And this was when the second sign appeared.

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The goal was bound to happen.  NYCFC had been feeding Villa ball after ball after ball.  He came close a couple of times.  So did another player or two.  I just don’t think anybody expected it to come from such a mundane build up.

It began with NYCFC defender Ethan White throwing in to Ring who crossed it to either Alexander Callens or Ben Sweat.  It’s hard to say since it rolled into the wide gap between them making them run for it like a stray ball.  Sweat then lobs it far, hoping to connect with one of the forwards; instead being intercepted by RBNY defender Damien Perrinelle.  Perrinelle then attempts to pass it up to Sacha Kljestan, but an NYCFC midfielder blocks it and — get this — uses his knee to send the ball towards David Villa who only has to run and catch it before Robles, which he does. 

Reader, please believe me when I say that I have watched and re-watched this goal, and I discovered something disturbing: VILLA WAS UNMARKED THE WHOLE TIME!  How?  How was that allowed to happen?  I know they had three forwards, but so did we.  Bradley Wright-Phillips was marked by two defenders whenever the ball came close to him.  Why were we not doing the same?

According to coach Jesse Marsch in the post-match press conference, Aaron Long was assigned to mark Villa throughout the match.  Long had his back to Villa and was ten feet away before the first goal.  For the second goal, he kept pace and was then beaten.  In the build up to the penalty, he was marking Sean Okoli.

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So remember a few seconds ago when I mentioned how Bradley Wright-Phillips always had two or three defenders marking him?  Well, lucky for us he’s so dang good because he was able to make a couple of goals.

The first was really sweet.  First, Felipe took possession from the blue team, passed it to Kljestan, who crossed to Sean Davis, who tapped it over to Wright-Phillips.  BWP then dribbled the ball a few over to just the outside of the 18-yard box, while two blue defenders positioned themselves between him and the goal.

Talk about magic, though.  Wright-Phillips planted his right foot and shot the ball with his left.  Ethan White was literally in front of him and the ball, but he stretched too far to stop it.  The ball went through his legs and towards the goal.  The City goalkeeper, Sean Johnson, then dove to his left to stop the ball, but he also stretched too far.  The ball passed through the triangular hole Johnson’s body made as it flew to the ground.  It was the most masterful goal I’ve seen from Wright-Phillips.

Let’s jump forward now, past the second goals, to the third and final goal. 

There’s still heated debate about what led to Villa’s penalty kick.  Was it a jinx brought on by some RBNY supporters chanting “this is our house” as some talked about the next day?  Probably not.  Was it a malicious kick to the face from Sal Zizzo?  No, Villa was hit by the ball not Zizzo’s foot. 

This is what it was: another accident born of bad timing and one bad decision.

Villa and Zizzo were converging on the same point — the same point being the ball.  They met it at the same time just outside the 18-yard box.  They keep pace with each other for one stride, but the ball is on course to meet Villa.  By then they’re in the box.  Were Zizzo to knock or tackle Villa he would be called for a denial of a goal scoring opportunity, with Villa getting a penalty.  So he went to kick the ball out.

Unfortunately, the ball was neck-high by then.  Villa lowered his torso so the top of his head could meet it first.  Zizzo raised his foot and tapped the ball just as it bumps off Villa’s head sending it into his face.  If it wasn’t for the ball, Zizzo’s cleat would have hit Villa’s face.

A fair-minded individual would recognize that the whole moment was an accident, but even accidents have consequences.  If Zizzo had left the ball alone, Perrinelle would have been able to mark Villa and even block the ball.  Instead he made a decision which could have injured someone.  No one should have qualms with Villa being awarded the penalty.

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Everyone knew the match was over once the penalty was made.  Marsch had waited too long to sub in Gonzalo Veron and Michael Murillo.  The team was too deflated to even out the score.  They had become so Metro.

But that’s not why they lost.  The team played well and with promise.  Kljestan’s form as a number ten is returning; he moved the ball with precision and assisted on both New York goals.  Wright-Phillips is becoming a laser-focused striker, putting himself where he needs to be and timing his goals in astonishing ways.  The only area that needs improvement is the shaky backline.  Hopefully, more time together will lead to better decisions and improved marking. 

Featured image courtesy: New York Red Bulls Instagram

Follow and chat with me on twitter // @kerissaward

Check us out on instagram @mlsfemale

 

Gone Fishing

Kerissa Ward - New York Red Bulls/mlsfemale
New York Red Bulls Key Contributor

By Kerissa Ward // @kerissaward

Wednesday, July 19: 5-1 Win

Aloha! I’m Kerissa and I’ll be your New York Red Bulls Key Contributor for the San Jose Earthquakes match. It’s like I’m a super-sub with no athletic ability whatsoever. Thankfully, you don’t need athletic ability to enjoy sports, so let’s have a good time talking about the match!

I want to start by telling you something I figured out Wednesday night. If I tell you, you have to promise not to tell anybody else? Great!

Here’s what I figured out: this season’s team motto is “Just Keep Swimming”.

No, really it is! Go back. Watch this season’s matches. You’ll see it. You’ll see high possession, higher rates of shots taken, and missed crosses for days. It’s a relentless barrage running and kicking until something works. The Red Bulls keep “swimming” until they score.

Now, perhaps this is the motto for every gegenpressing team. When you’re moving fast, crosses are going to be missed; play is going to look a little sloppy. I’ve seen the Red Bulls pull off a precision high press, though, so it’s hard for me to believe this goes with the territory. The rigor of play was nearly as low as it’s been at other times this season. Yes, they won (and, at 5-1, boy, did they ever), but it just seemed like a lot of swimming.

Now, maybe I’m being a little too hard on the team. The Metro area did have a high temperature in the 90s on Wednesday, while the game temperature hovered in the 80s.

They didn’t even get a water break. Everyone in the arena was sluggish!

So, considering this, the match stats are impressive. RBNY definitely performed well against San Jose. They had an average possession of 57% against the Quakes’ 43%, they took more shots (19 v 12), and had more on target (11 v 3). Plus, despite my concern about missed crosses, RBNY had an 84% passing accuracy.

The match even became a redemption moment for a few players. Alex Muyl came on in the 44th minute as a substitute for Connor Lade, who went out with a potential re-injury to his left knee. And Muyl did okay. He matched Lade in touches, while having a better passing accuracy. I wouldn’t recommend he stay in a place that was essentially the back line, but his time there should be helpful for challenges during the rest of the season.

Sean Davis is the next player on the list who had a darn good performance. Every time he touched the ball, San Jose’s midfield would surround him like pigeons in the park looking for birdseed. It was an obvious attempt to suppress a player who’s been getting stronger. If only it had worked. Davis was unmarked in the box when Lade and Sacha Kljestan passed him the ball for a sneaky goal.

It was Kljestan, though, who the crowd embraced as a conquering hero. And, truly, it was a flashback to the number 10 of 2016. He had a whopping 92 touches, created five chances, assisted on two goals, and scored a goal himself. He was a walking fire emoji.

The hardest player to miss, however, was Daniel Royer. How can I describe his style of play? It felt like he was trying to impress someone. It reminded me of watching kids playing junior basketball and hogging the ball because they wanted to impress a family member in the stands. And bless Royer’s heart, he put 110% into the whole match. He was second behind Kljestan for touches and took the most shots. His tenacity paid off, too; he scored the final two goals.

Now comes the hard part because, faithful reader, I have something shameful to admit. All I ask is that you let me keep the sack dress on during my walk of atonement. You see, I was not at the match as a fan, I was there as a professional; and professionals don’t cheer. But, faithful reader, when that Felipe goal went into the net, I may have pumped my arm a little bit.

Could you blame me? It was an important night for Davis, Kljestan, and Felipe. They each scored their first goals of the seasons. Plus —PLUS! — Kljestan assisted with the Davis/Felipe goals, while needing no assist for his. And there was something about that Kljestan goal that opened a flood gate because Felipe made his two minutes after him with Royer’s coming in the 90th and 91st minutes.

In a twenty-minute span the Red Bulls narrowed their goal differential to –1 and doubled San Jose’s to –8. It was like me being in the press box was some sort of good luck charm [wink, wink].

Maybe — probably — you’re wondering why, if the stats are good and a bunch of goals were scored, I’m still not convinced the team is turning things around. Here’s why: because “just keep swimming” is a term coined by an optimistic fish to help a pessimistic fish; it’s not a long-term plan.

Let’s start with this season’s poorly-timed crosses. Despite the high passing accuracy, the team’s ability to connect in the box is still inconsistent. In a majority of the matches this season, crosses are lobbed without looking as their targets are struggling to get into position. A fast rate of play will bring misses, but when this happens RBNY falls into the same counter-press trap they’ve always been weak against. All San Jose had to do was delay Bradley Wright-Phillips and – badda-boom – they have a goal kick to their attacking half and get into a dangerous position.

And let’s not forget the backline. In the post-match presser, Jesse Marsch said there was always a three-man backline, but no one would blame you for thinking differently. At times, they looked like a five-man defense with Connor Lade and homegrown promised child Tyler Adams as wide wing backs. Aaron Long, Damien Perrinelle, and Sal Zizzo, as center backs, were a mixed bag. Zizzo did the incredible by having the most touches of the three, the best passing accuracy, and not conceding any fouls. Whereas Perrinelle, the weakest of the three, had trouble marking players and received a lot of Luis Robles‘ angry shouts.

As luck would have it, Panama was defeated by Costa Rica the same night. Cross your fingers Michael Murillo will be up for playing on Saturday in Minnesota. He’ll get a start and RBNY will have a stronger back four. Unfortunately, they’ll have to wait a little bit longer for Kemar Lawrence, who’ll be playing Mexico on Sunday in the semi-finals of the Gold Cup.

There are some who are starting to get on the hunky-dory bandwagon. I’m not ready to ride that, yet. RBNY just hasn’t been consistent for enough time. When I watch RBNY play something seems off. It may be morale, in which case a game like the one against San Jose is a lift. We’ll just have to keep watching to see if they can bring more consistence to their persistence.

Featured image courtesy: @NewYorkRedBulls

Follow and chat with me on twitter // @kerissaward

Check us out on instagram @mlsfemale